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Seattle CEO: Push to tax Washington’s billionaires a ‘simple, obvious solution’

Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price. (Gravity Payments screengrab)

A new proposal in the state Legislature looks to tax Washington state’s billionaires, a move that Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price says is needed to even the playing field.

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In 2015, Price pioneered a $70,000 minimum salary for his Seattle employees, cutting his own $1.1 million yearly pay down to $70,000 in the process. That spurred years of advocacy related to wealth inequality, something he feels this new bill addresses directly.

“We have the most regressive tax system in the entire United States,” he told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show, a common rallying cry in the state for those who have traditionally opposed Washington’s lack of an income tax.

Price sees other value to taxing the state’s billionaires too, and believes that the timing may be perfect to finally close the gap between the haves and have-nots.

“The top reason is that we have — because of a loss of revenue from COVID in the state — we have a $3.3 billion shortfall,” he pointed out. “And so state lawmakers have to get that from somewhere and they could … cut into programs that benefit kids like schools, health care, those sorts of things. Or the simple, obvious solution is to just barely fix how out of whack our tax system is by charging the people on the very, very top a little bit more.”

In past years, proposals like this in Washington have faced significant opposition from the state’s anti-tax bloc, including the Washington Policy Center, which warned in a Thursday blog post that a wealth tax could force top earners to leave the state entirely.

Price takes issue with that argument for a few reasons.

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“The two places with the highest taxes on wealthy people are California and New York, and the places that have the most wealthy people are California and New York, so there’s just no data that supports that,” he detailed. “Jeff Bezos can absolutely afford this. Bill Gates can absolutely afford this. In fact, this 1% tax would cost Jeff Bezos one week of what he calls his Amazon winnings in 2020, so it’s not a big amount.”

And even if billionaires do end up leaving, Price argues that not much will change regardless.

“We wouldn’t lose anything — if they sell their home, that property tax is still going to be paid,” he pointed out. “It’s almost like this person has been sneaking in the back door of the movie theater for decades, and we’re going to start charging them now.”

“(People are) saying, ‘we don’t want to charge them, because what if they don’t keep coming?’ Well, they’ve just been sneaking in the back, so we should probably charge them,” he added.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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